Annual collector car event is steered by compassion, benefits numerous charities

Beautiful motorcars shining on the famed 18th fairway of California’s Pebble Beach Golf Links were par for the course on Aug. 20 when the prestigious Concours d’Elegance once again rolled into town. The annual summer spectacle not only is an invitation-only competition, it is also a driving force of compassion as it serves as a fundraiser for nearly 100 charities throughout the Monterey Peninsula.

While the cars glided in, the participants and spectators flooded in. What began in 1950 as a small social event paired with a road race through the pine and cypress forests of Pebble Beach has grown into the top-ranking collector car competition in the world. A contest of elegance as opposed to speed, the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance brings together 200 of the most prized collector cars on the planet to be judged on their historical accuracy, technical merit and style, with the best garnering reward and recognition.

Credited with helping guide the growth of this event into a truly global celebration of the automobile is the chairman of the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance since 2002, Sandra Button. Having served as the event’s executive director decades prior, Button also participates in and often officiates at concours and car shows from Asia and the Middle East, to Europe and South America, in her efforts to encourage and support automotive enthusiasts around the world.

A collector herself, Button and her British husband, Martin, have acquired and preserved or restored an eclectic collection of automobiles ranging from a 1904 Oldsmobile to a 1972 Ferrari 365 GTC/4 — as well as her favorite cars, two Bentleys — and they regularly participate in driving events, such as the 1000 Millas Sport Argentina, the Copperstate 1000 and the Bonhams London to Brighton Veteran Car Run.

According to Button, the success of the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance is very much a formula: passion plus energy plus connection equal a magnetic force. She acknowledged in a 2014 interview conducted by Alain de Cadenet for Credit Suisse that the Pebble Beach competition is the direct reflection of the passion of hundreds of people throughout many decades, and that the event is pretty organic because they are always questioning the what and why of the things being done and asking if there is a better way. They also suggest changes when they’re deemed appropriate because everyone wants to do right by the cars.

As for what constitutes the grand prize of the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, the best of show award, Button also noted in the above-mentioned interview that while there are a number of people out there who genuinely understand the kind of stance, provenance, rarity and elegance that makes a best of show car, there have been some surprises. She believes that a car has to have enough presence to really turn heads, and that it takes a special car that can catch the eye of the judges and of the audience in general. She also explained that it impossible for a car to win the best of show trophy unless it first wins its class, and that these cars have to be preserved or restored to exacting standards before they can compete for the top award.

The 2017 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance featured the following marques and special classes, among others: Isotta Fraschini; Castagna Coachwork; American Dream Cars of the 1960s; Ferrari Major Race Winners and Ferrari One-off Spéciales. In tandem with the competition between extraordinary historic automobiles, the Concours is also host each year to some of the world’s most anticipated concept cars and new car debuts.

As BMW’s star attraction at the concours on Aug. 20, the automaker released a shadowy teaser image of a new open-top sports car concept, which debuted on Aug. 17 in Monterey. The concept previewed the new Z4 that BMW developed in combination with the new Toyota Supra.
The auctions before the Aug. 20 event provided plenty of spectacle as well. Seven- and eight-figure collector car prices have pulled some spectacular machines out of the blue throughout the years and for its Pebble Beach auction, Gooding & Co. was no exception. The company auctioned off a pair of Mercedes-Benz 300 SLs, one Gullwing and one Roadster, which have been in the same family since new.
The current owner, who prefers to remain anonymous, is the son of a reported publishing executive who originally purchased the 300 SL duo and never drove them. Also on the auction block on Fisherman’s Wharf Aug. 17-19 was a 2006 Porsche 911 GT3 RS that holds the distinction of being purchased new by preeminent Porsche collector and comedian Jerry Seinfeld.

Still, the real numbers the Concours d’Elegance seeks to amass lie in the donations it receives via this fundraising event through its primary charity partner, the Pebble Beach Company Foundation, which was created in 1975 to improve the lives of Monterey County residents.

Sixty-seven percent of third-grade children in the county cannot read at their grade level, and 25 percent of children under the age of 17 live below the poverty level. Now celebrating more than 40 years of giving, the foundation directly impacts the lives of more than 10,000 children annually through education and literacy, as well as 50,000 residents requiring food assistance yearly.

In 2016, the foundation supported nearly 85 local nonprofit educational programs, including the arts, athletics, environmental sciences, educational organizations and community programs, by offering a record $960,000 in grants and scholarships. In keeping with its focus on education, the 501(c)3 organization also is working with the Concours to oversee the Phil Hill Scholarships program, which was created to honor racing great and longtime friend of the Concours Phil Hill, and encourage the next generation of automotive enthusiasts.
Grateful for the assistance it received from BMW of North America, Infinity USA and Mercedes-Benz USA, which all donated their much-desired cars, the following charities also benefited directly from the event’s Opportunity Drawings: Animal Friends Rescue Project, Boys & Girls Clubs of Monterey County, Montage Health, Kinship Center and Natividad Medical Foundation.

Amidst all the spectacular sights and enthusiasm of the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, it is compassion that always will be behind the steering wheel.

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